IT Brief Australia - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
Story image
IWD 2024: Psychological safety - Inspiring empowerment and inclusion for women in tech
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

As we celebrate International Women's Day, I have been reflecting on how the technology sector and my colleagues at Thoughtworks are building an inclusive working environment. A  key factor is enabling more women to feel empowered, and one way to do this is by ensuring psychological safety. 

Here's a small exercise you could try. Think about your workplace or team and answer the  following questions: 
● Do you feel the team brings out the best in you? 
● Can you fearlessly speak your mind? 
● Can you always be yourself? 
● Are you able to openly admit your mistakes? 
● Do you feel heard and appreciated? 

The human brain is wired for safety. At work, feeling a lack of respect or appreciation or fairness or credit etc., can greatly impact performance. It is the responsibility of the organization, leadership, and managers to create an environment of psychological safety.  

Here are a few suggestions on how to enable just that: 
Develop a sense of inclusion and belonging among team members 
The first step in psychological safety is to feel included. Only when we are seen, welcomed and understood by our colleagues can we wholeheartedly participate. To develop a sense of belonging in the team, listen to everyone's viewpoint. Value their efforts regularly. Offer them help in tough times. 

Remember that inclusivity is not about treating everyone the same. So, do not generalize and always only speak for yourself. For instance, instead of saying, "That's an easy task", say, "I  find this task easy but I'd like to hear what others have to say." This seeking approach helps one understand each individual's experience. 

Respond with empathy 
Just like not everyone is the same, not every day is the same. People show up at work in different states of mental well-being. So, empathy is non-negotiable. A meaningful way to be empathetic is to be mindful of our language and its impact on the other person. For instance,  instead of the confrontational approach where one might say, "Your code is quite bad and not what I expected", say, "I know that you are capable of writing great code. Let's figure out what  happened this time." This manner of checking in with each other on their state of mind and creating a space for team members to discuss their mental health without fear of judgment is a move in the right direction.

Invite diverse views 
Welcome different perspectives, and when people offer them, disagree with respect. People tend to cushion their ideas when they fear judgment. For instance, they might say, "This is  probably a silly idea," or "this may be a dumb question." Reassure them that all ideas are welcome. 

Watch out for groupthink, a tendency of the minority to stay silent to avoid upsetting the majority. Invite opinions from everyone. Appreciate unpopular views, even if you disagree. It shows you value diversity in thought. 

Speak up and let others speak up 
As simple as it seems, speaking up isn't easy for everyone. Some might be shy. Some might have difficulties speaking the common language. Some might have had negative experiences speaking up in the past. With some nudging and encouragement, everyone will speak up. 

Actively invite opinions from everyone. Have a 'no interruption' rule, i.e., when one person is speaking, no one is allowed to talk in between. Being interrupted or cut off discourages not just the speaker but also others from sharing their thoughts the next time. Have one-on-ones or smaller group conversations for those uncomfortable with speaking up in large groups. When you present, pause for questions and feedback. Give others a chance to speak up. 

Inclusion shouldn't just be a buzzword for the technology sector and companies around the world. We need to transform our good intentions into tangible actions that build an inclusive future for all. Companies should also not underestimate the importance of having a supportive  and inclusive community. At Thoughtworks, from our policies to the physical environments we work within, to how we build our communities, inclusion is always top of mind. Through constant engagement with employees and affinity support groups, we have rolled out various inclusive employee initiatives. For instance, we could make improvements to our parental leave policy and use more inclusive language in our communications. 

While we are proud of how much the technology sector has achieved in gender parity and broader inclusion, we understand that fostering true inclusion and one through psychological safety is an ongoing journey. Companies should continue to evaluate their inclusion policies,  listen to feedback from their people and always find ways to do better. At Thoughtworks, we believe that inspiring inclusion is a collective responsibility. This International Women's Day, let's transform inspiration into action and continue to build a more progressive and inclusive industry.